“We know that we’re in the midst of a war for talent” says Dairy Holdings Limited’s CEO Colin Glass.
“The stats show that the dairy industry was short 2000 to 4000 people at the start of this year and the situation has only got worse as the year has unfolded,” he said.
In a tight labour market, it’s vital to invest in your people, and to keep investing so that they want to develop their careers alongside you.
Fortunately, we’ve had a focus on People and Culture for many years now, but we believe that you can always do better, and you can always do more,” he said.
The numbers tell the story says Colin, with the adage being that with up to 300 cows in a herd and one operator, success is all about the cows. But when you step up, and with 600 cows and two to three staff, then everything changes and it’s all about the people, and the cows and pasture are not nearly as relevant.
“What that tells you is that your 2ICs are equally as important as your farm operators. You need to know that they are happy, which relies on your farm operators having the skills and expertise to lead and coach effectively and to communicate your values throughout the organisation.”
To ensure that this is happening, Dairy Holdings learned early on that it had to do more than simply roll out Performance Appraisals on an annual basis. It needed an Employment Accreditation and full 360 programme for its people, similar in nature to the process that farmers and sharemilkers might go through for Business Awards or People Grow Awards.
It also knew that it needed a trusted third party to lead the process.
“Our people won’t talk to us nearly as frankly as they will talk to someone else. For some reason, when strangers go onto your farms, your people will tell them everything,” he said.
The trusted team to take up the baton for DHL was Rural Coach New Zealand using their purpose-built People360 programme.
What we liked about Rural Coach was that they had the right mix of corporate experience and rural backgrounds. Most of the people we have on our farms are in their thirties and forties, and are technically very good as farmers, but they’ve often had no formal training on employment matters like how to recruit, and how to coach and give feedback effectively.
By comparison, at Rural Coach, they know what good people development systems can look like and they have strong rural connections and farming backgrounds. This gives them immediate street credibility when they step onto the farm.
Dairy Holdings' annual People360 process starts with DHL’s leadership team meeting with Rural Coach to discuss its objectives for the year ahead. Thereafter, onsite interviews are conducted using Rural Coach’s framework, with information gathered and collated into a final report which is passed by each Farm Supervisor to check. From there, an Action List is created for Development and Improvement. This creates circularity that is aligned with strategy, with themes to respond to, and personal ownership for change allowed to cascade through the organisation.
As a result of going through the People 360 process, DHL has seen people starting to change how they see their business, realising that the people they’ve employed are the single defining key to the success of their farm.
What comes next is perhaps the biggest challenge for Rural Coach, says Colin. That is, how to present the information at a corporate level, capturing the messages effectively and without breach of confidence. In his view, Rural Coach has always walked that tightrope very effectively.
“Which is great for us, because we want to know everything - although it wasn’t always like that in the beginning,” he reflects.
“When we first started with Rural Coach, it was an ‘easy-out’ to be defensive when the results came through, and to think ‘that’s not right and we know better’. But through a process of debriefing, we’ve come to see that all feedback is good feedback and that it was important not to shoot the messenger. What we know now is that our employees’ perception is their reality and what we think in response doesn’t matter.”
Perhaps ironically, the most value that Rural Coach can bring to the senior leadership team is when they are most confronting in their report and observations. “We don’t want them to hold back! How your people are seeing you is more important than how you see yourself,” he notes.
Today, the insights from Rural Coach’s activities feed straight back into the company’s People and Culture Strategy Roadmap, something that DHL put in place about four years ago in response to changing market conditions. The Strategy was developed alongside Rural Coach and it features four key areas of focus – Progressing our People, Recruiting people at the right level and on time (and retaining them), Tracking our Engagement, and Health and Safety in the Workplace. KPIs have been developed and the company is now building a dashboard to report on these focus areas.
But it’s not all about the quantitative results, said Colin. Some insights have been invaluable in terms of creating an alignment of aspiration within the business. For example, on reviewing the feedback from Rural Coach, we could see that our people don’t do things in silos. When operators and employees have a goal and a drive to achieve it, then that attitude and approach is brought into their work life. With that knowledge to hand, we seek to understand and support each goal, regardless of what it is … knowing that a motivated staff member is hugely valuable to the organisation and more deeply invested with us when we show we care.
On reflection, Colin said that Rural Coach has been hugely valuable in capturing information and providing feedback to everyone. “They have been our eyes and ears for many years. What they discover for us is the equivalent to gold.”
“We like that they are independent, and they interview everyone. They get everything dumped on them, and because of the work they’ve done over many years to contribute to our culture and values, we have high levels of trust that they’ll represent us well. We know that they’ll say the right thing and help to create alignment right through the organisation."
Financially, the programme is paying big dividends too. A few years ago, no one would have thought that people management would be reflected in milk prices. But what we’re finding today is that there’s a direct correlation between what we earn and the focus we put on our people. Not only is there a war on to attract and retain good people, but international markets are changing with people willing to pay a premium to businesses that do the right thing.
Rural Coach and their listening culture have enabled us to be at the front of the curve. They listen carefully to what our people have to say, and because of that, we listen to them carefully too.
They have the conversations that we can never have, and they shine a spotlight on people that we can never shine a spotlight on. They help us to develop our people, be better employers and gather constructive feedback.
Undertaking People 360 is at the core of our being, because when we develop and grow our people, then that raises the bar across the entire business. “Whatever our employees get out of it, we get more.”